Monday, October 17, 2016

Iowa Law Enforcement Academy helps DV survivors

“Recently a former client brought us three new pairs of pajamas. She told us that for her the most precious thing was the pair of pajamas she got that first night here at New Beginnings. She has put that pair in her drawer and wears them only one week a year because she doesn’t want them to wear out too quickly. She wears them on the anniversary of what she calls, ‘my first dream.’ We would never have stumbled on such a good thing for those we serve if it hadn’t been for Helen’s Pajama Party. Please party on!” — Sister Charla, retired Executive Director of New Beginnings shelter in Dubuque, Iowa

SOME OF you know that in addition to writing Hey Look Something Shiny and, with Paul, managing Turner Center Jazz Orchestra and owning Brainstorm Iowa, I started a charitable non-profit ten years ago called Helen's Pajama Party that collects and distributes new pajamas to domestic violence shelters.

More than 10 million women (and men) are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States every year, and on average more than 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines each day!

Those who escape an abusive household are often literally running for their lives and have nothing but the clothes on their backs when they flee. The goal of Helen's Pajama Party is to have a pair of new pajamas ready and waiting for every survivor who seeks refuge at a domestic violence shelter.

Since its inception, Helen's has provided thousands of pajamas to shelters in Iowa; I've also held drives for shelters in Arkansas, North Dakota and Nevada.

But it's really not me. Granted, it wasn't a bad middle-of-the-night idea, but it's the collective effort of everyone who has given pajamas or money, hosted a pajama party, donated goods or services, wrapped pajama packages at Christmas, made deliveries to shelters or helped me in any other way — as well as the media coverage local newspapers, radio and TV stations have provided — who in actuality supply the pajamas.

October 11 was an example of diverse community resources coming together to provide for domestic violence survivors in Iowa. Tiffany Allison, founder of Soaring Hearts and survivor-advocate extraordinaire, mentioned Helen's Pajama Party to I
owa Law Enforcement Academy instructor Molly Jansen and chaplain Judy Wadding who then proposed that two current classes, #270 and #271, engage in a competition to see which class can collect the most pajamas, and that the classes also help sort, tag and pack pajamas for Helen's.

Eighty officers-in-training made for a lot of able-bodied help. Previous places we've held Helen's Pajama Party working events were too small or impractical for other reasons, so I asked for help from Professor Ronn Newby at DMACC, and he arranged for us to use space in a brand new building on the Ankeny campus. Ronn also provided student volunteers from Phi Theta Kappa honor society to help unload the truck that Paul rented to cart all the stored pajamas to the event for processing, and assist in other ways.

Ronn also happens to be the deserving 2016 Helen's Pajama Party Volunteer of the Year award for organizing Phi Theta Kappa pajama drives the last two years that yielded more than 600 pairs of new pajamas.

Karl Schilling, president of the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistancegraciously attended to take the pictures you see. But please note that none of this would have happened without Paul. We had a crew to unload the pajamas from the truck, to sort, tag and pack them and reload the truck, but Paul loaded the truck to begin with all by himself, and spent many days beforehand helping me plan and organize and redesign the Helen's Pajama Party website.

So as usual, Paul is my hero.

We're still short 60 women's size 1X, 210 2X, 67 3X and probably 100 kids pajamas needed to complete the orders for all the Iowa shelters, but we were able to completely fill Council Bluff's Phoenix House needs just in time for Iowa Senate Majority Leader, Michael Gronstal to deliver them October 18. 

Senator Gronstal and me at our office before he and Paul somehow managed to get all of these boxes and at least one more into his Prius!

And as a reminder as to why Paul and I do this, here's another letter from Sister Charla who has always been, and remains, an inspiration to me.

"The first night a woman comes to stay with us, we invite her upstairs to what we call Pajama Dreamland to browse and choose a pair of pajamas that fit her best. We explain that by 'fit' we aren't just talking about the size. We mean her dreams and hopes for a new life.

​Today I took a newly arrived victim upstairs to pick out her pair. With eyes sparkling for the first time since walking through our door, she told me that if it were just the fit in terms of size, it would be easy, but considering what we asked she said, 'Suddenly I have so many possibilities. Pajamas with flowers — I can plant my own, and no one will stomp them dead. Pajamas with soft colors — I can dream and know my dreams have a chance. Pajamas with puppies — I've always wanted my own dog, and now I could have one. Pajamas with lace and bows — I'm a woman and maybe I can learn to be proud of that. Pajamas with clouds — I can go to sleep and not be afraid.'

With so many choices, I asked her if one pair would be enough. She said, 'To have one sweet dream is more than anything I have ever known. One is enough.'"

Sister Charla

Executive Director of New Beginnings, Dubuque.


  1. What a beautiful ending - the beginning of that woman's new life was just perfect to end your piece. It speaks to why you do all this week every year. Perfect.

  2. How really wonderful! Sometimes the smallest thing can be that one thing that keeps us going. When a woman is forced to literally run for her life a new pair of pajamas can make her feel safe again.